August 2019 New Hampshire Notes


Although fall is officially almost a month away, there are signs that it’s coming.  A few of our trees are showing their first bits of color and I spotted a leaf that fell before it had completed its fall makeover.  The state of New Hampshire also prepares for the coming seasons by ordering and storing salt and sand to use on wintery roads.  These supplies are brought by ship into Portsmouth Harbor and now sit under huge white tarps near the water.In all seasons I enjoy walking along the nearby beaches. Whenever I beach walk somewhere on the 18 miles of New Hampshire Atlantic coastline, I look at the islands roughly seven miles offshore.  Now known as the Isles of Shoals, these nine little islands (only eight in high tide) are named for a fish behavior.  Fish that swim together for social reasons are known as shoalers.

In 1614, John Smith (yes, that John Smith of Pocahontas fame) wrote about these little islands and named the desolate dots of land in the sea Smyth’s Isles.  The abundance of fish in the area (cod mostly) had attracted fishermen throughout history.  There is evidence that Native Americans fished in this area as much as 6,000 years ago.  Because of John’s explorations, the area became known to the British and others who continued lucrative fishing until the mid-eighteen hundreds when the fish population dropped.  At its peak, they were landing cod weighing between 100 and 150 pounds!  Besides the fish stories, there are interesting historical bits attached to these little rocks in the sea.  Pirates hid in the caves and the pirate Blackbeard is said to have left one of his many brides to guard his treasure when he was pursued by the British.  Ghosts of various sorts are said to wander, especially around the lighthouse.

Appledore is the largest island at about 95 acres.  During the late eighteen hundreds, it became an artist colony and retreat for the well-to-do with the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Sarah Orne Jewett regularly staying at the island’s hotel.  Nearby Smuttynose Island was the scene of a grisly murder in 1873.

Last week I took a ferry out of Portsmouth Harbor and had a peaceful narrated ride across the Piscataway River to Star Island, now a Unitarian Conference Center.  Fishing originally brought people to the island, then the new hotel built in 1876 invited well-heeled Bostonians and New Yorkers to spend part of their summers there.  With electric bells, gas lighting, and “open plumbing with perfect drainage” (whatever that means), the wealthy flocked to Star Island.  The hotel is still there, now called the Oceanic, and is one of fewer than ten remaining Grand Hotels and the only one that hasn’t been completely renovated.

The day we visited, there was time to walk around the island.  I saw the solar array, built in 2014, with over 400 panels providing 100% of the energy needs for the island (60% during their summer high season).  Adults were sitting on the wrap-around porch reading, children were engaged in crafts, there were tie-dye shirts drying in the sun, and the ocean breeze was energizing.  A ride back on the ferry completed another interesting day in New Hampshire.

P.S.  Star is one of 4 islands under New Hampshire’s jurisdiction.  Appledore and 4 others belong to Maine, but were once a part of Massachusetts.  In the early 1700’s there were about forty homes on Appledore and Massachusetts levied a tax on them.  Although the “Live Free” New Hampshire motto wasn’t then in use, the forty families dismantled their houses, put the disassembled parts and their belongings on boats, and rowed across the harbor.  They then reassembled the houses on Star Island where there was no tax.

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